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Prison reduces reoffending rates

In our attempt to find a solution that addresses high reoffending rates, we have done considerable research into community based schemes. We have reviewed statistics on non-custodial sentences from academic and Home Office publications, and directly contacted award winning schemes. Neither of these routes proved successful. With the first, we found official government reports with conclusions not matching the data contained within them and academic papers displaying flawed methodology and inconclusive, incomplete statistics. In the latter case, of the four award winning schemes we contacted, only two replied; one had closed, and the other asserted statistical research proved their scheme was successful, without offering any numbers or references.

Here we show that, given the right regime, prison can offer low reconviction rates for particularly troublesome criminals - repeat violent and sexual offenders.

HMP Grendon, near Aylesbury, is a specialist prison for males, run on the lines of a therapeutic community for those with a personality disorder. No one is sent there against their will. Motivation to change and willingness to participate in group work are important selection criteria. Inmates can return to the general prison system if they wish or can be sent back without consent. Each wing of Grendon has a degree of autonomy. Each wing elects a representative council, who are responsible for overseeing the prison’s strict ‘no violence, no sex, no drugs’ policy.

The regime emphasises group therapy and a communal approach. Offenders spend long periods of time discussing, facing up to and accepting responsibility for the offence that led to conviction. They are also forced to examine and challenge the patterns of behavioural development that have led them to offend.

Two studies of the impact of the Grendon regime have been carried out recently by the Home Office. The first examined reconviction rates over a four-year period following release on a group of just over 700 prisoners who had been admitted to Grendon between 1984 and 1989 [1]. Two comparison groups were used: a waiting list control group of 142 prisoners selected for Grendon who did not actually go there and a general prison group, made up of prisoners with similar characteristics, in terms of age, offence type and sentence length.

The main findings were:
* Prisoners selected for Grendon tended to be high risk offenders, when compared with other prisoners of similar age, and serving similar sentence lengths for similar offences.
* Lower rates of reconviction were found for prisoners who went to Grendon than for prisoners selected for Grendon but who did not go.
* Prisoners who stayed 18 months at Grendon exhibited reductions in reconviction rate of around one-fifth to one-quarter compared to the general prison control group.
* There appeared to be some reduction in reconviction rates for sexual and violent offences for those who stayed at Grendon for longer periods.
* Grendon also seemed to have a negative impact upon offenders under 30 convicted of only one previous violent offence. However, for all other offence types and age groups positive effects were recorded.

The reconviction rate can be summarised by the following graph:

But for certain types of prisoner, a much larger effect was seen. For prisoners with two or more sexual or violent sexual convictions, the Grendon reoffending rate for sexual crime was 18%, with violent sexual crime being 31%. For the control group, the rates were 43% and 72% respectively.

The second study, using the same sample and control groups but following up over a period of seven years, was carried out. This survey had the benefit of a longer examination period (many sex offenders – who form a large proportion of Grendon’s population - do not reoffend until several years after they have been released) [2]. Overall findings from this study were broadly similar to the first, although slightly more positive.

The results of these surveys suggest that Grendon is not a suitable regime for younger, first-time violent offenders. However, it does seem to have an impact on the offending of groups often thought to be particularly troublesome, dangerous or beyond help such as older repeat sexual and violent offenders.

[1] Home Office Research Findings No. 53. Available online
[2] Home Office Research Findings No.115. Available online


Congratulations Alan. To have unearthed such evidence is quite an achievement, particularly as most of those involved in collecting it probably bat for the other team.

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